I heard her once,
at twilight turn
An echo from
that secret space,
betwixt shadow and void
most ancient of memories
Yet bearing no melody,
- Venerable Keeper Ensun, The Subtler Shades of Silence, Chapter IX
Tsami struggled to hold herself upright as she crawled around on her raw, wounded hands in the vast darkness of the forest cave, searching for her brother.
“Moth, where are you? Are you alright?” she called, her voice resounding like a ghost’s echo off the damp stone walls, deep into the cave’s earthly heart. Bats took flight in a bursting cacophony, forcing her to pull the torn, excess teal drapery of her monk’s robes up over her head. As their torrent of wings rushed past Tsami’s enshrouded figure, beating their frantic thunder, she recited a protective prayer to herself, over and over again in mantra, too afraid to move on from its comfort, even after the swarm had long passed on.
That was until she heard a most familiar groaning.
Breaking her posture, Tsami moved towards the sound, all the while reacting verbally to the crushing discomfort of sharp gravel pushing against her flesh. When she found and tugged the sleeve of Moth’s robes, he yelped in response.
“Sorry,” said Tsami, quickly withdrawing her hand.
"I think… I think I’ve broken my arm,” stated Moth, expelling his discomfort again through gritted teeth. “I’m telling you we’ll be cast out of the monastery for this.” He raised his head and Tsami could make out the lines of his smeared, powdered face staring up at the cave’s daylight exit above, and the steep steps they’d fallen from. “Honestly, I can’t believe I just let you pull me down like that.”
“Yes, yes, it’s all my fault,” said Tsami, unable to rein in her agitation. “Please tell me you can still write though?”
Moth shuffled around in the darkness for a moment, before producing and pushing the Initiate’s Scroll towards his sister with his fine arm. Tsami inched her hands out slowly, receiving the scroll with a kind of serious, weighted reverence for the artifact. “But it’s forbidden,” she said.
Moth roared with laughter before immediately regretting it, adding an equal measure of pain to his expression. “Take a look around you, Tsami. All of it. For-bid-den.”
Sighing, Tsami unrolled the scroll out upon the closest semblance of flat stone she could find. Moth managed to hand his side-pouch of ochre to Tsami, who dipped her index finger into the pouch before writing a single word of spelltongue on the parchment.
The word responded, illuminating the hemisphere of their immediate surroundings.
Moth tsked. “You’ve always been a fast learner,” he said, conceding a rare compliment to his sister. “Still, we should probably have done this before entering the scary, dark cave.”
Inhaling, Tsami drew the light-source off the page with her hand, first flat in its plane, before expanding its volume with an exhale, rendering it fully dimensional, orb-like between her fingers in a firm clasp. Reclaiming the scroll, Moth brushed the ochre off with the base of his delicate palm, before rolling it up and sliding it back into the ornate holder fastened at his side.
“Shall we?” she asked, coming behind Moth to help him to his feet.
“Watch it,” said Moth as he rose, pointing clumsily with the elbow of his broken arm to the fading torchlight; the cost of Tsami’s split focus and overconfidence. Inhaling again, she drew her attention back toward the energy within her arm and to the light by extension, then as she exhaled, the light came flooding back brightly white in her grasp.
Holding each other close for support, the pair stumbled alongside a faint, trickling causeway that led them deeper into the forest cave. As the light from the entrance slipped away, glowworms began to gleam above, revealing veins of twinkling-blue starlight, weaving an intricate tapestry across the stone ceiling, far on toward its outermost reaches.
“They’re so pretty,” remarked Moth, mouth agape, sounding just a touch delirious.
Eventually the slow procession of their own wandering star came to the natural-end bowel of the cave, into a large, rounded chamber.
The light from Tsami’s hand spread out, growing exponentially, refracting off innumerable facets of jutted crystal. Her face was projected a thousandfold, reflecting from the background of every pane. At the conclusion of their path, embedded in the far wall of the chamber, beneath a high archway of crystal, the glass ran so smoothly down its surface towards the earth, it best resembled a great, clouded mirror.
Moth wandered away from Tsami, ascending the rocky altar to explore his curiosity.
“Do you see it?” he asked, gently pressing upon the mirror with his finger. “There’s something moving inside. Like fog, or a gas of some kind.”
“It could just be the light playing tricks,” said Tsami, hoping for the simplest explanation. She stared down at the chamber floor blankly for a moment, before noticing an object lay half-buried amongst the dirt.
Reaching down, Tsami picked up and shook off a layer of caked earth from the filthy robe. As she brought her sphere of light in her other hand over its dulled yet evidently opulent fabric her stomach dropped, and the light fell quickly away from her and each and every one of her stunned reflections.
“Moth,” she called, dropping the robe to tame her torchlight. Hearing the urgency in Tsami’s voice, her brother came rushing back to her side.
“What is it?”
Tsami pointed to the ground.
Moth picked up the robe. “This… this belongs to a master, maybe even a Keeper,” he said in amazement, stroking its cloth. “My word, it’s exquisite. But what’s it doing down here?”
“I don’t know, Moth,” said Tsami. “I’m not sure I want to.”
Before Moth could respond, Tsami turned to leave, and as she did she kicked up another object in the dirt.
A stick? she thought, before making a double-take. No, something else…
Reaching down again she picked up the long, pointed object, turning it over in her hands, intuiting the old grooves and knots with her fingers.
Tsami forgot to breathe. It’s a wand.
The light in her hand was snuffed. The chamber fell back into its natural state of darkness. When she remembered to inhale again, the clouded mists inside the surrounding crystalline landscape began to glow, pulsing an intense shade of ominous violet. One with, and an extension of, the rise and fall of Tsami’s own breath.
“Tsami… dear sister, what are you doing?” said Moth, who now found himself the unsettled one.
Turning to face the mirror wall with the wand held tightly at her chest, Tsami observed the violet mists drawing together in concentration behind the glass directly across from her. Sensing a connection, she extended her arm with wand in hand and watched, to her surprise, as the mists obeyed, drawn to its point, floating away from the mirror, out across the crystalline landscape. She swung the wand in the opposite direction, pointing out to the left, and watched again as the mists crept over in pursuit.
Then, Tsami brought the point of the wand back to the central pane and the mists rushed to gather, but this time they did not linger. Instead they swirled together in a vortex of their own volition, before transforming and crafting a shape; a figure of shadow, staring and pointing its own wand back at her.
“I mean you no harm,” said Tsami, lowering the wand in her hand. The shadow mimicked her, lowering its own, and it occurred to Tsami that she was the shadow, and when this thought occurred to her there was a moment, a feeling as if she had crossed over, beyond the mere confines of her own body, through the mirror’s glass, and now stood behind the shadow, gazing back out at herself; that distinct, feminine figure, the part of herself which was known.
It was the sound of Moth’s voice in the otherwise silent chamber that broke Tsami’s strange, spiritual tether.
“Father?” he asked with a whisper.
Tsami’s perception flew back over the glass, slipping back into the familiarity of her own body. Staring back at her reflection she observed the shadow once more, and a young man, dressed as she was in monastic fashion, looming in the background in the near imperceptible space beyond.
She wanted to speak to the man, to acknowledge him, to tell him he was seen, because she sensed somehow this was what he wished, what he had always longed for. But for all the will in the world to speak her words would not come, and shapeless utterances of no coherence, no meaning fell from her mouth, so long as she held the wand in her hand as conduit, so long as she held this bond and sought to unravel its mystery.
The stranger’s eyes were hers, not some father’s she had never known, and through them they spoke to her a thought, declaring itself upon her mind…
Beyond the Crystal Doorway,
the first and final dream
Behold the timeless reverie,
through the eyes of The Unseen
Before Tsami could react, before she could answer the call of the cryptic invitation, a whirlwind of colour, of rainbow rushing light came flooding into the chamber from behind, swooshing and surrounding Tsami and Moth, embracing them in a violent tempest, pulling at them with such force they struggled to hold their own footing, before being lifted fully into the air. All Tsami could manage was to tuck the wand into the inner pocket of her robe before being drawn out the passage, back under the glowworm tapestry, back towards the cave’s entrance and then up through it, straight into an assault of blinding daylight, and then down, down onto the hard reality of the forest floor.
For the second time in one day Tsami had been thrown against the earth. The first had been no small feat of pain, but the second struck her in such a way that she was acutely reminded of her own mortality. Curling over on her side, Tsami’s dazed eyes adjusted to the sight of a bald, graceful figure in silver and cyan robes standing over her, sacred grimoire open in hand. It was then, rolling over onto her back and staring into the afternoon sunlight breaking through the treetops above, that she understood what had happened.
“Lightweaver…” Tsami whispered.
Keeper Koam nodded in recognition, then trekked over the foliage, skirt trailing in her wake across the crushed leaves, to Moth, who was now sitting upright, the robes of similar, albeit dirtied fabric from the cave laid over his lap.
“Seems it was a worthwhile venture to skip one’s practice,” said Koam, raising her brow.
Visibly sore, Moth slowly keeled over, bowing in reverence. “Forgive me, Keeper,” he said. “It was not my intention.”
Koam stared down at Moth, holding the silence for a moment longer than felt comfortable. A slight smile formed in the corner of her mouth.
“You are honest,” she said, “and not the first monk to go wandering off the beaten path. Did you find anything else on your journey below?”
Moth sat up and looked to Tsami, whose wide eyes said more than they needed to.
“No your reverence,” said Moth, swallowing the truth of it. “Though I do believe I managed to break my arm.” He held up the sling he’d managed to form by tucking his elbow into his sleeve. “We were in the dark for some time, you see. I couldn’t write, so we were sort of stuck there. I’m sure you’re aware Tsami is yet to receive a scroll from one of the sacred texts, so it’s not like she could perform any spelltongue, nor could I teach her. Not that I would, of course.”
The Keeper’s rich, golden eyes searched Moth’s, making sense of his story. She let out an audible, almost disappointed sigh. “Very well,” she said, closing the open grimoire in hand. “Come then, we’ll sort this arm of yours back at my residence.”
Tsami went to stand, but quickly found she was still better off earthbound. Her legs gave in and she fell back on her bottom while reaching out with her arms, almost flailing to grab the Keeper’s attention.
“If I may, your reverence,” she said, “how did you find us?”
Keeper Koam made a knowing smile. Tucking the grimoire under her arm, she assisted Moth to stand. “Knowledge is light, and light is my knowledge, child,” she said, beginning back through the trees. “As it is for all who dwell within these sacred grounds.” she indicated to Tsami, to Moth, and to the wild overgrowth of the forest around them. “I know very well the Words for Finding, especially when it comes to lost students.”
That night, after dinner and after tending to the communal duties the garden monastery required of its residents, well after both student and master had retired to their respective dormitories and chambers, Tsami snuck along the open corridors, footsteps to floorboards with the intention of a feather, headed for the southern courtyard.
The triad moons above reflected brilliantly upon the various waterscapes of mosaic, shallow ponds scattered about the stone garden as Tsami made her way towards the monastery exit. When she passed under the triumphant archway she turned, half expecting to see Moth standing there, ready to drag her back home. But there was no one, just still waters and silent stone, and so she smiled at the thought she was left with, of her brother sleeping soundly.
Reaching into her pocket she produced the hidden wand and pointed it out towards the far off heart of the forest. She breathed in and felt one with the wordless, windy sigh of the trees, and wondered how she had never known such a feeling. Then she took off, running almost gleefully into the night with the violet wand-light to guide her, in pursuit of answers, against her own better judgement, back towards the forest cave.